No. 4 Badgers have added offense to big, physical defense

Minnesota plays Wisconsin at 2:05 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Ridder Arena.

No one needs to tell Minnesota’s women’s hockey team that Wisconsin plays stingy defense; the Gophers have known that for years.

What does present a new set of problems for the top-ranked Gophers (21-1-2, 16-0-2 WCHA) heading into its home series with the Badgers this weekend is the Badgers’ suddenly powerful offense.

Minnesota plays Wisconsin at 2:05 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at Ridder Arena.

Wisconsin’s scoring is up by almost a goal and a half per game from last year.

“They’re more dangerous,” Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson said. “We have to not only worry about scoring goals (on them), but we have to stop them.”

“Them” is a good choice of words in this case, as No. 4 Wisconsin (18-5-1, 12-5-1) has a well-balanced offense in which four players are at or near the 30-point mark for the season.

Because of this balance, Halldorson said every member of the Gophers’ defense will have to be consistent and work hard without the puck to cut down on the Badgers’ scoring chances.

But junior defender Ashley Albrecht said the approach to playing the Badgers, who are bigger and more physical than most teams, will not differ too much from the usual.

“We just play strong defense and make sure the puck gets out of our zone and do our job,” she said.

Though the Gophers’ second-ranked defense is already strong, junior forward Krissy Wendell said the fine-tuning done by the team on defense during the last few weeks should continue to pay off in this weekend’s games.

Of course, you also must score goals to win hockey games. And while Minnesota has shown little trouble in this area throughout the season, it should have its hands full with a Wisconsin defense ranked first in the country.

Halldorson said the key to Wisconsin’s defensive success is its intelligence.

“They limit chances by being in the right place at the right time,” she said. “They also do a good job, I think, of playing the body and worrying about the puck second.”

Minnesota will rely on speed and movement to counteract this physicality.

“If we take advantage of the speed that we have, get loose, we’re going to be able to create our own great scoring opportunities,” Halldorson said.

Wendell said the Gophers were lucky in earning three points from December’s series in Madison, Wis.

Defensive play should help determine whether that luck runs out this weekend.